From DVD Beaver, April 2007. — J.R.
|Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of jazz films —documentary records of particular jazz performances and narrative films that incorporate jazz in some fashion, in their soundtrack scores and/or in their stories. But in some cases, identifying which films belong in which category is simply a matter of personal taste. Consider, for instance, Black and Tan and St. Louis Blues, two landmark jazz shorts directed in 1929 by Dudley Murphy—-a fascinating figure who straddled the avant-garde and the mainstream, having both collaborated with Fernand Léger on Ballet mécanique and Paul Robeson on The Emperor Jones and directed several Hollywood pictures, and who’s been receiving some belated recognition lately thanks to Susan B. Delson’s excellent biography, Dudley Murphy: Hollywood’s Wild Card (University of Minnesota Press, 2006). I would argue that Black and Tan, which stars Duke Ellington, is important chiefly as a narrative film, whereas St. Louis Blues is mainly important because it features the only appearance and performance on film by the great blues singer Bessie Smith. (Both are available, incidentally, on Hollywood Rhythm Vol. 1: The Best of Jazz and Blues, along with ten other shorts, most of them from the 30s and most of them released by Paramount.|